It's About Data

In my Calendar post, I touched on some of the work we’ve done in our Entourage 2008 reliability focus. I’d like to continue that discussion today with some details about our efforts in another critical area, the Entourage Database.  Apart from a few exceptions (e.g. Rules definitions, signatures), essentially all Entourage user data is stored in the database. Reliability and trustworthiness here are our top priority. In Entourage 2008, we dedicated a large amount of time to identifying database areas with potential for new approaches and improvements. We found new ways to better detect database inconsistencies. We’ve also implemented tighter controls on data type enforcement and are smarter about reclaiming storage from deleted items. The end result is more confidence in the integrity of your data.

For those instances when inconsistencies are detected, the Entourage 2008 database recovery tool will be a more effective solution. In past versions, recovering your database was intrusive and required additional work to get things back into shape. Metadata like Categories, Project designations, and Links were lost. Mail filtering rules were also often victims when the clearing of IMAP and Exchange caches would break links between Rules and their related folders. In Entourage 2008, these are all preserved. Categories, Projects, Links, and Rules are no longer vulnerable to the process. The recovery is now more precisely focused on correcting only problem areas.

Compatibility with Apple’s Time Machine backup feature in Leopard is a database area that has received a lot of attention recently. Because Entourage uses a single file database, over time it can become large (sometimes really large). In those cases, Entourage data will not work optimally with Time Machine. Our recommendation is to exclude your Entourage Identity folder(s) in the Time Machine preferences and use alternative backup methods. We are committed to integrating with key Apple technologies and are weighing our options here for future releases.

When the topic of Entourage and databases comes up, it’s often about compatibility with Outlook personal store files (.pst).  Entourage 2008 will continue to work with the PST Import Tool for Mac. It’s important to note that this tool is used to import Mac Outlook 2001 .pst files into Entourage. Directly importing Windows Outlook .pst files is not supported in Entourage 2008. We have heard from many of you that a Windows Outlook .pst solution is important. This feedback is factoring into the database development planning for future versions of Entourage. For now, there is an AppleScript based solution that I think is worth a look.

Another important consideration here is how we interact with Exchange’s database, “the store.” We’ve made some welcome improvements to our WebDav synchronization performance with Exchange in Entourage 2008.  Through code reviews, customer feedback, and working closely with the Exchange team we’ve been able to find optimizations that will make the Exchange experience better. We solved efficiency bottlenecks and implemented smarter priority and thread utilization, especially with deep folder trees. You'll also have more control over the order folders sync with smarter prioritization of selected folders. This will result in faster Exchange folder updates and Entourage responsiveness will sharpen.

To conclude, I’d like to reiterate a point from my first post, that we understand that our Exchange customers want “an Exchange client on the Mac with features, performance, documentation, and reliability on par with Outlook.” This is a goal that will be achieved in stages, through Entourage 2008, its updates, and beyond. In Entourage 2008, the Exchange focus has been weighted towards reliability, better meeting management, performance, and documentation. While we’ve added important new enterprise features like OOF, Managed Folders, and Compliance Labels, and delivered features that will help you focus you on what you need to get done, we’ve concentrated on making things right in some rough spots. We know that there’s more important work to do, notably in the area of Task and Note sync with Exchange.

I look forward to upcoming posts from our team that will reveal our security feature work and some cool things we’ve done around To Do Flags. Entourage 2008 is a big step forward and we’re all anxious for you to see it.

Richard Kmieciak